Is It All a Pretense?
Basket of Figs, July, 2004
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin;
that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Ė2Cor. 5:21
Has the Luther and Calvinís reformation all been a terrible mistake? It is too bad, some people say, that there is so much division between Christians. Why canít we all just get along? Itís a sort of Rodney King theology, before Rodney King.
One of the major points of division is the biblical doctrine of imputed righteousness by faith. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way in Question 60:
Q60: How are you righteous before God?
A60: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
Rome doesnít like this answer; Arminius didnít like it; heretics of all stripes donít like it. It is all based on dishonesty and pretense, they say. It involves God in a fiction, pretending that sinners are righteous. Besides, if Christ paid the penalty for our sins, then where is mercy? Arminius made fun of those who said that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to sinners. If the debt is paid, then where is forgiveness?
Arminius taught that God accepts faith instead of righteousness, that in mercy He accepts what we can do for what we cannot do. We cannot please Him perfectly, but he accepts faith instead of obedience, but that only accounts for past sins; in order to stay in the faith, we have to obey, but God only requires a good faith attempt. Norman Shepherd and some of the New Perspective people have revived a form of this sentimental accommodation.
Rome has its own wrinkle. God infuses righteousness into us, and declares us righteous because of the good that He has put in us. Our sins are either purged by tribulation in this world, or by the fires of purgatory in the next.
There have been many wrinkles on these themes over the years, all of which have been rejected by Godís people.
Does the imputed righteousness of Christ involve God in a pretense, a fiction? Not at all, for the righteousness of Christ is a perfect and complete righteousness. In Christ is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Him. Godís predestination unto eternal life for the elect is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, so there is no pretense in God. His perfect salvation involves not only the declaration that we are righteous, but also the actual implanting of eternal life in the elect by the Holy Spirit. At the coming of Christ we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. On this the scripture is plain. But the implanting of eternal life in the elect is not the cause of our righteousness, but is itself the effect of the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ.
We are now the sons of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be. We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
What is emphatically NOT true is that there is no level of righteousness that we must obtain either from ourselves or from God in order to merit the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. This is received by faith alone, based on the perfection of Jesus Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism states in the above quotation.
Those who deny this salvation are willingly ignorant and self-deceived. They refuse to accept the gift of eternal life, because they wish to exalt manís ability and manís free will. Hence, they think that there must be something for man to do. Instead of giving God glory, they denigrate Godís gift, preferring to call Him a liar and a pretender, rather than to receive the gift of faith.
God made Christ to be sin. God did not make Christ a sinner, but counted him as a sinner, and punished him accordingly, as the Gospel says. Neither does God make us righteous in an instance, but He counts us righteous by faith, and then treats us as if we were righteous, bestowing on us all the gifts that Christ purchased for us, including complete conformity to Him in Heaven.
But Where Is Forgiveness, if Christ Paid Our Debt? The mercy of God as set forth in the Gospel is far deeper and richer than the false doctrine that God somehow forgets about our sins and pretends they didnít happen [THEREíS a pretense for you, and it is ascribed to God by those who deny imputation.]
Jesus is God, and the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him according to Colossians. God is not punishing another [a man Jesus] for our sins, but is taking them upon Himself. In this God can be just and the justifier of those who believe on Christ, according to Romans. His perfect justice is satisfied, so that He is not involved in any kind of chicanery or sentimental sob-sister mercy.
To accept faith itself instead of the full payment of the debt exalts good intentions over truth, well meaning over knowledge and integrity. Arminian and Roman mercy is ingrained into the very fabric of American life. A few tears will make it all better. ďI did not intend harm,Ē brings political forgiveness and restoration. ďJust do the best you can,Ē and all will be well with God. We freely admit our bankruptcy before God, if we think of Him at all, but we are certain that he will accept a few cents on the dollar for the our debt, pledged by that sorry thing we call faith, which often is only a miserable caricature of the biblical variety. We know ďitís real,Ē because we feel it in our hearts.
I am not saved because I can weep over the crucifix, either the carved variety or an electronic one. I am saved because I believe that Jesus satisfied the justice of God to engraft me into the family of God and He ever lives in heaven ruling over all things in order to make sure that I donít go astray but finish the journey as He has planned it.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. ĖEphesians 2:8-10
Itís too bad that everyone doesnít believe this, but only those believe to whom it is given. Isaiah cried, ďWho has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed. The surprising thing is not how few there are who believe, but that any believe at all. Such is the mystery of God. But no one will be saved who does not believe in Christís imputed righteousness. All other righteousnesses are filthy rags.